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The Women of Visual AIDS

Joyce McDonald, Moma's Prayers, 2000 click for full image
Joyce McDonald Joyce McDonald, Praise thru Grief, 2000

Joyce McDonald, Somewhere Over the Sky, 1998

Joyce McDonald, Moma's Prayers, 2000
Joyce McDonald, Divine Vine, 1998

Joyce McDonald, Lady with Blue Bandana, 1999
Moma's Prayers,
terra cotta, cloth & paint,
7" x 6" x 6"
All images are the property of the artist and may not be copied or reproduced without the express written permission of the artist and Visual AIDS.

Joyce McDonald:

As is the case with most of these women, there is far too much to say about Joyce McDonald to possibly fit it all here. So we won't: In Joyce's case, The Body sat down and talked with her about the amazing path through life she's taken and the seemingly infinitely deep pits out of which she has been able to climb, before she began to create her art. After spending a happy childhood in a housing project in Brooklyn, N.Y. with her four brothers, two sisters and two loving parents, Joyce ran away at the age of 17. That choice marked the beginning of Joyce's rapid and tumultuous descent into a life haunted by abuse, prostitution and deep drug addiction.

For almost 40 years Joyce remained lost, drifting through life even as her two daughters were born (both came into the world addicted to drugs), her father died and her family prayed in vain for her recovery. Then, at a street corner one Sunday in 1993, everything suddenly changed. And that's only the beginning of Joyce's remarkable story.

After her HIV diagnosis in 1995, Joyce starting going to the Jewish Board of Family & Children's Services AIDS day program. It was there that she at found herself as an artist. "Shortly after my art therapy began," she admits, "I started creating small sculptures without being able to stop."

Referring to her creative process, Joyce explains, "Most of the time I don't plan any work, I don't have control over what I do. In it is a lot of fear and pain that I experienced from my past life. But I also express the love from my family and from God that has guided me."

Soon after she started sculpting, Joyce joined the Visual AIDS archive which helps HIV-positive artists. Before she knew it, she was exhibiting her work at churches, women's shelters, hospitals and private shows throughout New York City: "Seven TV programs have displayed my art or interviewed me about it."

These days, Joyce describes herself as both a "testimonial artist" and an AIDS activist. She sculpts, paints, speaks and writes about living with HIV, and also coordinates the AIDS ministry at her church.

"I use art, motivational speaking, singing, poetry and the Word of God. I speak about how He changed my life. I'm a living witness -- we can overcome shame and embarrassment and be healed from the pain of the past and have peace, hope and joy for the future."

Joyce's sculptures have been exhibited throughout the world, from her home base of Brooklyn all the way to Uganda, where slides of her work were displayed to HIV-positive artists. She has appeared in the publications POZ, Our Time Press, the Daily News and Amsterdam News.

"One of my works in clay is of a woman with a thin person sitting on her lap. They have both deteriorated physically, mentally and spiritually. The woman is looking to her right, passing this spirit on to God.

"Many people see my work and simply begin to cry, because they see themselves and their own suffering. My creations serve as a sort of passageway made of the earth, they connect these once-lost souls to one another, and to God as well."

Joyce McDonald can be reached via e-mail at

Click here to read Joyce's story.

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